Wednesday, June 26, 2013

No Cicadas Here

It's weird to be disappointed about something like dodging the bullet of a cicada swarm outbreak, but Noah and I were really looking forward to the Brood II emergence this year.

Unfortunately, it never happened. In fact, we have yet to hear the whir of a cicada here at all. I think I remember that last year it was around this time in the summer before the cicadas made an appearance.

I'm from the South, so cicadas are a mark of summer, and to have to wait for them so late in an already short season  makes me feel like something is missing.

So instead we'll have to content ourselves with some images I captured over the past few months and haven't yet posted.

Oh, and tell me what you're reading now! I'm reading Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (thanks Margo, luv, for the recommendation of Shadow and Bone).
Buddha head-stand at Storm King Art Center

Noah contemplating Andy Goldsworthy's wall

Not quite spring when I took this

Lichtenstein's Mermaid

A turtle laying eggs in our back yard

Blue heron fishing on our pond

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

A to Z Challenge: J is for Jargon

(I totally fell to pieces during April's A to Z Challenge... but I promised to follow through no matter how long it took to get to the end. So here's an installment, for your reading pleasure. Thanks for sticking with me!)

The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition) lists the first definition for jargon as confused, unintelligible language.

While this definition holds true of a lot of first drafts (and quite a few of this blog's posts, admittedly), the definition I want to focus on is "the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group."

What more special group is there than your novel's cast of characters? How often to you find yourself writing dialogue (or exposition) that makes complete sense to you, that falls well inside the normal speech patterns for your characters, only to hear from your beta-readers that they have no idea what your characters are talking about?

Especially when you're writing fantasy, unique terms and phrases to describe objects or states of being are necessary! But the problem is how to introduce those terms, that jargon, without throwing your reader into a tailspin of confusion as they try to decipher exactly what your characters are trying to say.

Once again, I turn to the talented J.K. Rowling to illustrate what I believe to be a top-notch example of how to work jargon into accepted language for the reader.

"Where was I?" said Hagrid, but at that moment, Uncle Vernon, still ashen-faced but looking very angry, moved into the firelight.
"He's not going," he said.
Hagrid grunted.
"I'd like ter see a great Muggle like you stop him," he said.
"A what?" said Harry, interested.
"A Muggle," said Hagrid, "it's what we call nonmagic folk like them. An' it's your bad luck you grew up in a family o' the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on."

If you do this too often, unfortunately, you're going to overwhelm your reader and cause them to fall out of sync with the story. But! For the important terms, it's worth experimenting with ways to sneak the explanation in.

One thing to note about the definition of the word muggle here and all it's nuances the importance of characterization in helping to paint the picture of the term. Rowling has spent chapters by this point characterizing the Dursleys and their relationship with Harry so that when Hagrid labels them muggles, the implications of such a word reach far beyond nonmagic. So much so that when you hear the word muggle, do you not immediately thing of Dursley?

Take some time and create a list of the jargon you employ to build your world. Which meanings are obvious to your readers? Which are creating unnecessary confusion? How can you craft your narrative in such a way that the meanings of the words stretch beyond the literal definitions?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reading with intention

Not my house
Hey! It's been a while, I know. Well, here I am, back again. Did you miss me?

It's been a few months now since my reading schedule got a mind of its own. I'm a freelance editor, you see. What that means is that sometimes for months at a time people hurl manuscripts at me and my job is to read them and assess them or correct them or provide suggestions on their improvement... as fast as possible.

Now don't get me wrong. I love this job. It's the most inspiring and exhilarating thing I can think to do with my time and I get paid to do it!

But somewhere along the way a line has to be drawn in the sand. Somehow, amid all the not-yet-published-works-of-amazingness (or not-so-amazingness), I need to be filling my brain with something that reinforces what makes a book a work of amazingness... because otherwise the image of the ideal starts to liquefy.

And so I start flailing about for something to read that is either a classic or current market favorite. It's a good thing my house is stacked full of books. I'm  never far from something to read.

Susan Sontag says, "Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer." For anyone who desires to improve in the craft of writing (or editing), a conscientiously built reading list is a must. I struggle at maintaining this kind of discipline in my own reading life, largely because I am an emotional reader. I think that explains why I keep re-reading Harry Potter. I am attached to those characters at a deeply emotional level, and so returning to them and the world that J.K. Rowling created is a comfort that I cannot resist.

Still, I recognize the need to branch out, and so while flailing for books, I'm also casting about for inspiration. One of my favorite places to turn for reading list fodder is Margo Berendsen. She never fails to have a recommendation that tantalizes. The most recent recommendation of hers that I read and loved was The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

I also snagged a copy of the Indie Book Awards list from BEA (Book Expo America) this year, and I'm eager to try out a few of those authors as well.

Currently I'm reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford (from my flailing about)... and next in my queue is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (a Twitter inspired choice).

But what about you, dear reader? Where do you find your own inspiration? What books have left you bursting with emotion? I'd like to add them to my list!